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Hitherto Unpublished Letter From Lord Lister to Dr, W. W. Keen 
Exclaiming at Attempts to Restrict Medical Research 

To the Editor of Public Ledger: 

Sir — The following letter was found 
among Lord Lister's papers by his nephew, 
Sir Rickman J. Godlee, ex-president of the 
Royal College of Surgeons, England, who is 
about to publish the authorized life of Lord 
Lister. I have his kind permission to pub- 
lish the letter. It is a signed holograpn 
letter, evidently written and revised with 
unusual care, for there are many changes 
and corrections in it. It was also evi- 
dently copied, for "a line is drawn over 
it as it was copied," as Sir Rickman in- 
forms me. The envelope is indorsed 
'•Rough draft of a letter to Doctor Keen." 
No copy of the letter ever reached me 
Presumably it went astray in the mail. It 
is of especial interest as showing Lister's 
deep convictions and personal exparlence. 
W. W. KEEN. 


12 Park Crescent, Portland Place. London. 
W., April 4, 1898. 

Sir — I am grieved to learn that there 
should be even a remote chance of tlie Leg- 
islature of any State in the Union passing 
a bill regulating experiments upon animals. 
• It is only comparatively recently in the 
world's history that the gross darkness of 
empiricism has given place to more and 
more scientific practice, and this result has 
been mainly due to experiments upon Living 
animals. It was to these that Harvey was 
in large measure indebted for the funda- 
mental discovery of the circulation of the 
blood, and the great American triumph of 
general anesthesia was greatly promoted 
by them. Advancing knowledge has shown 
more and more that the bodies of the lower 
animals are essentially similar to our own 
in their intimate structure and functions ; 
so that lessons learned from them may be 
applied to human pathology and treatment. 
If we neglect to avail ourselves of this 
means of acquiring acquaintance with the 
working of that marvelously complex ma- 
chine, the animal body, we must either be 
content to remain at an absolute standstill 
or return to the fearful haphazard ways of 
testing new remedies upon human patients 
in the first instance which prevailed in the 
dark ages. 

Never was there a time when the advan- 
tages that may accrue to man from in- 
vestigation on the lower animals were 
more conspicuous than now. The enormous 
advances that have been made in our 
knowledge of the nature and treatment of 
diseases of Jate years have been essentially 
due to work of this kind. 

The importance of such investigations 
was fully recognized by the commissioners 
on whose report the act of Parliament reg- 
ulating experiments on animals in this 
country was passed, their object in recom- 
mending legislation being only to prevent 
possible abuse. 

In reality, as one of the commissioners, 
the late Mr. Erichsen, informed me, no 
single instance of such abuse having oc- 
curred in the British Islands had been 
brought before them at the time when I 
gave my evidence, and that was toward 
the close of their sittings. 

Yet, in obedience to a popular outcry, 
the Government of the day passed an act 
which went much farther than the recom- 
mendation of the commissioners. They had 
advised that the operation of the law should 
Lg_d to experiments upon warm- 
b " t «SJen the bin w^ 
of Commons a 
respected as a 
>rant of the sub- 

ject-matter, suggested that "vertebrate" 
should be substituted for "warm-blooded," 
and this amendment was accepted by a 
majority as ignorant as himself. 

The result is that, incredibie as it may 
seem, any one would now be liable to crimi- 
nal prosecution in this country who should 
observe the circulation of the blood in a 
fr.-g's foot under the microscope without 
having obtained a license for the experi- 
ment and unless he performed it in a 
specially licensed place. 

It can readily be understood that such 
restrictions must seriously interfere with 
legitimate researches. 

Indeed, for the private practitioner they 
are almost prohibitive, and no one can tell 
how much valuable work is thus prevented. 

My own first investigations of any im- 
portance were a study of the process of 
inflammation in the transparent web of the 
frog's foot. The experiments were very 
numerous, and were performed at all hours 
of the day at my own house. I was then 
a young, unknown practitioner, and if the 
present law had been in existence it might 
have Veen difficult for me to obtain the 
requisite licenses ; even if I had got them 
it would have been impossible for me to 
have gone to a public laboratory to work. 
Yet without these early researches, which 
the existing law would have prevented, I 
could not have found my way among the 
perplexing difficulties which beset me in 
developing the antiseptic system of treat- 
ment in surgery. 

In the course of my antiseptic work, at 
a later period, I frequently had recourse to 
experiments on animals. One of these oc- 
curs to me which yielded particularly valu- 
able results, but which I certainly should 
not have obtained if the present law had 
been in force. It had reference to the be- 
havior of a thread composed of animal tis- 
sue applied antiseptically for tying an ar- 
terial trunk. I had prepared a ligature of 
such material at a house where I was spend- 
ing a few days at a distance from home ; 
and it occurred to me to test it upon the 
carotid artery of a calf. Acting on the 
spur of the moment, I procured the needful 
animal at a neighboring market ; a lay 
friend gave chloroform, and another assisted 
at the operation. Four weeks later the 
calf was killed and its neck was sent to me. 
On my dissecting it, the beautiful truth 
was revealed that the dead material of 
the thread, instead of being thrown off by 
suppuration, had been replaced under the 
new aseptic conditions by a firm ring of 
living fibrous tissue, the old dangers of 
such an operation being completely ob- 

I have referred thus to my personal ex- 
perience because asked to do so ; and these 
pxamiiles are perhaps sufficient to illustrate 
the impediments which the existing law 
places in the way of research by medical 
men engaged in practice. ..whose ideas, if 
developed, would often be the most fruitful 
in beneficent results. 

But even those who are specialists in 
psychology or pathology and have ready 
access to research laboratories find their 
work seriously hampered by the necessity 
of applying for licenses for all investiga- 
tions and the difficulty and delay often en- 
countered in obtaining them. 

Our law on this subject should never. 

have been passed and ought to be repealed. 

It serves no good purpose and interferes 

seriously with inquiries which are of para- 

" " -_"V?«";e to mankind. 
Believe me, ^ 




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